When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1962, it gave its Best Picture award to Lawrence of Arabia. I don't think that's a bad movie—it made it into my honorable mentions—but I don't think it's the year's best either.
1. The Exterminating Angel
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel and Luis Alcoriza, from a play by Jose Bergamin
This was the first Buñuel film I ever saw. A couple dozen pictures later, it's still my favorite.
2. The Music Man
Directed by Morton DaCosta
Written by Marion Hargrove, from a play by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey
A real movie musical, completely liberated from the stage, with a sophisticated score and an anti-bluenose streak.
3. La Jetée
Written and directed by Chris Marker
Terry Gilliam remade/remixed this as Twelve Monkeys. I like that one too, but it can't match the poetry of the original.
4. Ride the High Country
Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Written by N.B. Stone Jr.
"You can have one, because the Lord's bounty is not for sale. The rest are a dollar each."
5. The Manchurian Candidate
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by George Axelrod, from a novel by Richard Condon
The book is fun, but it's also a mess. The screen version—or at least this screen version—is much better.
6. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen
Directed by Karel Zeman
Written by Zerman, Josef Kainar, and Jiří Brdečka, from a story cycle by Rudolf Erich Raspe
I'm a fan of Terry Gilliam's Munchausen movie too, but—as with La Jette—I like this earlier take on the tale better. It feels like it's set in a Cornell box.
7. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Written by Lukas Heller, from a novel by Henry Farrell
"You mean, all this time we could've been friends?"
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima
Kurosawa's funniest film, though I wouldn't quite call it a comedy.
9. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
Directed by Robert Enrico
Written by Enrico, from a story by Ambrose Bierce
One of two templates for Siesta, Jacob's Ladder, Lulu on the Bridge, Abre Los Ojos, The Sixth Sense, Vanilla Sky, and Donnie Darko.
10. Carnival of Souls
Directed by Herk Harvey
Written by John Clifford
The other template.
11. Pitfall (Hiroshi Teshigahara)
12. Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda)
13. Lolita (Stanley Kubrick)
14. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean)
15. The House Is Black (Forough Farrokhzad)
16. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (John Ford)
17. The Trial (Orson Welles)
18. Knife in the Water (Roman Polanski)
19. Hell is for Heroes (Don Siegel)
20. The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit (Gene Deitch)
If you're thinking to yourself, "Hey, didn't Jesse already mention The Fabulous Baron Munchausen when he listed his favorite films of 1961 last year?" then I congratulate you on your capacity for remembering blog trivia. You are correct. Apparently I had the wrong release date. Feel free to mentally revise last year's list by taking out Munchausen, bumping up everything below it, and inserting Jan Lenica's Nowy Janko Muzykant at #20.
Of the films of 1962 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Awful Dr. Orloff.
When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1972, it gave its Best Picture award to The Godfather. There are only five times I think the Academy got that prize right—and '72, like '92, is one of them.
1. The Godfather
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Coppola and Mario Puzo, from a novel by Puzo
"Now who's being naive?"
2. The Ruling Class
Directed by Peter Medak
Written by Peter Barnes, from his play
Jesus, Jack the Ripper, and the House of Lords.
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Altman and Susannah York
This isn't usually classified as a horror flick, but it's one of the few films that genuinely scared me as I watched it.
4. The Candidate
Directed by Michael Ritchie
Written by Jeremy Larner
"You're the Democratic nominee!" "You make it sound like a death sentence."
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Anthony Shaffer, from his play
"The shortest way to a man's heart is through humiliation."
6. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière
At this point in his career, Buñuel was mostly horsing around. But he was good at that.
7. The King of Marvin Gardens
Directed by Bob Rafelson
Written by Rafelson and Jacob Brackman
"Do you think that you're the only one who's entitled to be selfish?"
Directed by Joseph Anthony
Written by Horton Foote, from a story by William Faulkner
"I could never have guessed Fentry's capacity for love. I suppose I'd figured, coming from where he came from, even the comprehension of love had been lost out of him back down the generations, where the first Fentry had to take his final choice between the pursuit of love and the pursuit of keeping on breathing."
Written and directed by Larry Cohen
A strange little art-film/blaxploitation hybrid, starring the always enjoyable Yaphet Kotto.
10. Cries and Whispers
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
One of the most painful pictures I've ever seen. Part of me thinks it should be much higher in this list. Another part doesn't want to include it at all.
11. The Heartbreak Kid (Elaine May)
12. Fat City (John Huston)
13. The Getaway (Sam Peckinpah)
14. Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock)
15. Bad Company (Robert Benton)
16. Play it Again, Sam (Herbert Ross)
17. Love in the Afternoon (Éric Rohmer)
18. Deliverance (John Boorman)
19. The Mechanic (Michael Winner)
20. Junior Bonner (Sam Peckinpah)
Of the films of 1972 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Culpepper Cattle Co. and The Mattei Affair.
This was a surprisingly good year for movies. I say surprisingly because the '80s were a pretty bleak period for Hollywood, artistically speaking—and sure enough, the big American studios are mostly missing from the list below. Of the top 10, six are foreign imports, one is a documentary, and one is weirdo indie project (by an absurdist theater troupe cum new wave band) that was actually shot in the '70s. The only Hollywood studio efforts are a pair of genre flicks that were critically panned at the time.
But what a great pack of pictures this is. There are movies in the lower rungs of this top 10 that are on par with some other years' #1s. Filmmakers were still doing high-quality work in 1982. It's just that the studio suits usually weren't the people putting it out.
Nor, for the most part, were they honoring it at the Oscars. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1982, it gave its Best Picture award to an excruciatingly bland biopic called Gandhi. You won't find that one on my list, and I say that not just as a movie buff but as an admirer of the man who gave his name to the film.
1. Fanny and Alexander
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
"It is necessary and not at all shameful to take pleasure in the little world."
Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Written by Wajda, Jean-Claude Carrière, Jacek Gasiorowski, Agnieszka Holland, and Boleslaw Michalek, from a play by Stanislawa Przybyszewska
A movie about the French Revolution. Any parallels to events in the director's native Poland are strictly intentional.
3. Blade Runner
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples, from a novel by Philip K. Dick
In a blow to the director-as-auteur theory, this movie owes its greatness less to Scott's direction than to Dick's story and Lawrence G. Paull's production design. That said: If you haven't seen Blade Runner before, it's the director's cut that you should watch, not the studio's somewhat blandified original release.
Written and directed by Werner Herzog
My favorite Herzog, about a mad scheme to build an opera house deep in the Brazilian jungle.
5. Dimensions of Dialogue
Written and directed by Jan Švankmajer
Terry Gilliam praised Švankmajer's films for "moments that evoke the nightmarish spectre of seeing commonplace things coming unexpectedly to life." And, in this one, seeing them digest and regurgitate each other.
6. Say Amen, Somebody
Directed by George T. Nierenberg
I've never been to Heaven, but I kind of like the music.
7. Veronika Voss
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Written by Fassbinder, Pea Fröhlich, and Peter Märthesheimer
What if David Lynch made Sunset Blvd.?
8. Forbidden Zone
Directed by Richard Elfman
Written by Elfman, Matthew Bright, Nick James, and Nick L. Martinson, from a story by Elfman
What if John Waters made Hellzapoppin'?
9. The Draughtsman's Contract
Written and directed by Peter Greenaway
A feature-length puzzle-box about sex, sketches, and secret societies.
10. The Thing
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Bill Lancaster, from a story by John Wood Campbell Jr.
This is it: John Carpenter's best movie. Yes, of course, They Live has the best scenes. But as a movie, start to finish, this one is tops.
11. Burden of Dreams (Les Blank)
12. Moonlighting (Jerzy Skolimowski)
13. Liquid Sky (Slava Tsukerman)
14. The Verdict (Sidney Lumet)
15. Honkytonk Man (Clint Eastwood)
16. Down to the Cellar (Jan Švankmajer)
17. The Atomic Café (Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, Pierce Rafferty)
18. Vincent (Tim Burton)
19. The Return of Martin Guerre (Daniel Vigne)
20. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling)
Best mess: Larry Cohen's Q: The Winged Serpent.
Of the films of 1982 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains.
When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1992, it gave its Best Picture award to Unforgiven. And you know what? I think I agree.
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by David Webb Peoples
Fun fact: We are now more distant from this picture's release date than it was from the release of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
2. Glengarry Glen Ross
Directed by James Foley
Written by David Mamet, from his play
It's a filmed play, and it shows. But it's also the best Mamet adaptation ever to grace the screen.
3. Brother's Keeper
Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
How is it that two moviemakers could go to a small town, start filming the real events transpiring there, and somehow capture a story more engaging, compelling, and mysterious than almost everything produced by people who get to make shit up?
4. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Directed by David Lynch
Written by Lynch and Robert Engels
The Cannes crowd praised Lynch's Wild at Heart, and then they lacerated this nightmarish prequel to his TV series. They got it exactly backwards.
5. Reservoir Dogs
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Tarantino and Roger Avary
I think I might actually be sold on Mr. Brown's Madonna theory.
6. Porco Rosso
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, from his manga
"I'd much rather be a pig than a fascist."
Directed by Bernard Rose
Written by Rose, from a story by Clive Barker
Many horror movies are based on urban legends. This one is about urban legends, and the process of cultural transmission that they represent.
Written and directed by Jan Švankmajer
Not very appetizing.
9. The Player
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Michael Tolkin, from his novel
"I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we've got something here."
Written and directed by Tom Kalin
No Hitchcock remake is better than the movie that preceded it. But only because this isn't, strictly speaking, a remake of Rope.
11. Careful (Guy Maddin)
12. Wayne's World (Penelope Spheeris)
13. My New Gun (Stacy Cochran)
14. Prime Suspect 2 (John Strickland)
15. A Brief History of Time (Errol Morris)
16. The Crying Game (Neil Jordan)
17. L.627 (Bertrand Tavernier)
18. Barjo (Jerome Boivin)
19. Léolo (Jean-Claude Lauzon)
20. Rock Hudson's Home Movies (Mark Rappaport)
Of the films of 1992 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Long Day Closes.
When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 2002, it gave its Best Picture award to Chicago. I know a number of people who simply do not like that movie, but I think it's fine. It even made it into my honorable mentions. But it isn't the year's best—not by a long shot.
1. The Wire
Written by David Simon, Ed Burns, Rafael Alvarez, David H. Melnick, Shamit Choksey, Joy Lusco, and George Pelecanos, from a story by Simon and Burns
Directed by Clark Johnson, Peter Medak, Clement Virgo, Ed Bianchi, Joe Chapelle, Gloria Muzio, Milcho Manchevski, Brad Anderson, Steve Shill, and Tim Van Patten
Even as the old lines between the big and small screens keep collapsing, some people still side-eye me for putting TV shows on these lists. But come on. Put this together with the other four seasons of The Wire, and you've got the best motion picture of the decade; look at this season in isolation, and you've got the best motion picture of the year.
2. Talk to Her
Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Almodóvar explores the intersection between fetishism, projection, and unrequited love.
3. Mai's America
Directed by Marlo Poras
The best documentary I've ever seen about immigration.
4. The Office 2
Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
You know how sometimes the punchline in Peanuts would be more depressing than funny? The final scene of this one is like that.
5. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Directed by George Clooney
Written by Charlie Kaufman, from a "memoir" by Chuck Barris
A CIA assassin imagines he's pursuing a more socially beneficial life as the creator of The Gong Show.
Directed by Bill Morrison
A film built from the shards of older, decaying films. Someday it too will decay.
7. The Quiet American
Directed by Phillip Noyce
Written by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan, from a novel by Graham Greene
Proof (a) that Brendan Fraser can act, and (b) that a remake can be much, much better than its predecessor.
8. Dirty Pretty Things
Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by Steven Knight
"We are the people you do not see. We are the ones who drive your cabs. We clean your rooms. And suck your cocks."
9. About Schmidt
Directed by Alexander Payne
Written by Payne and Jim Taylor, from a novel by Louis Begley
Did you think the British Office was awfully bleak for a comedy? Well...
10. City of God
Directed by Fernando Meirelles with Kátia Lund
Written by Bráulio Mantovani, from a novel by Paulo Lins
"A kid? I smoke, I snort. I've killed and robbed. I'm a man."
11. Man on the Train (Patrice Leconte)
12. 25th Hour (Spike Leee)
13. Femme Fatale (Brian De Palma)
14. In Smog and Thunder (Sean Meredith)
15. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson)
16. The Girl on the Train in the Moon (Bill Daniel)
17. Chicago (Rob Marshall)
18. 28 days later... (Danny Boyle)
19. Hero (Zhang Yimou)
20. Nixon (Nam June Paik)
Plus a shout-out to the scene in Biggie & Tupac where Suge Knight delivers his "message to the kids."
Of the films of 2002 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Prüfstand VII.